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Stars - Shining For You

Author: Carlisle Rogers
Friday, 15 February 2008
In the lead-up to the Laneway Festival 3D’s Carlisle Rogers got on the blower to Stars’ vocalist Amy Millan. The Montreal band have just released their fourth album, In Our Bedroom After the War, a tightly produced melange of tight production and vocal harmonies that marks, in some ways, a return to their roots while forging ahead in the indie pop, rock-laced direction, still led by Torquil Campbell’s almost overdone vocals and Millan’s romantic canting.

Headed down to Australia in February to play the Laneway Festival, it’s a chance for us to see if they can pull off the same über-clean sound in person that they do on the album.

“We’re a six-piece live and we’re a five piece when we write,” Millan, also of Broken Social Scene, says from Montreal. “We’re much more cacophonous and energetic in our live show than we are on record. The sixth member is Alan Mann on guitar. Evan [Cranley, also of Broken Social Scene] plays a lot of guitar and we also have our friend from Apostle of Hustle, Andrew Whiteman, play guitar so we need a person to come on tour with us and fill in those parts live. I believe in re-inventing stuff for your live show, but there’s some stuff you definitely need to bring with you.

“We definitely represent every record and we have stuff we keep in our back pockets. It’s more fun when you can draw from your history and then you can sense the ones that have been with you since the beginning and the ones that are kind of new. But then you get to introduce the audience to stuff you’ve done before, and that’s another plus when playing live. People hear them and say, what was that song- I don’t know that song, that was a great song, what record is that from- and then I’ve got to go get that record. It’s representing your catalogue.”

Millan says that there isn’t necessarily a difference in how she and Campbell approach writing for Stars and Broken Social Scene, which they both have been involved with, they are just different people making different music.

“We don’t sit down and conceptualise how we’re going to be perceived by people, it’s just very organic and it’s about a group of friends who come together and play music. Three of the people who play music in Stars are going to be on the next Broken record, or maybe every single person in Stars. Broken is a big, big family because it’s based on friendship. How many times during your life do people come in and out of your life, one minute you talk to a person every day and the next you can’t talk to them because they’ve gone away on a trip or whatever, so someone else comes into your life that fills that role. It’s really about a group of people who are friends.”

Cranley, who handles much of the production for Stars, says that much of the sonic dissonance between the bands rests in the difference between how he and Kevin Drew [BSS co-founder] treat the music.

“Kevin and Brendan [Canning, the other co-founder of BSS] and the guys, they are very good at organized chaos and seeping through the distortion and messiness to see the song in,” Millan says. “They have a gift for smearing a song in noise but making it beautiful, but still maintaining the integrity of the song. Stars are much more contrived and arrangement-driven. That’s the big difference between the bands musically. Broken Social Scene has a spontaneity and a dirt that Stars just doesn’t have. It’s totally different and I love both of them. It’s like two different friends.”

Millan says that the new album is, more than anything, an album, a cohesive piece of work built to be listened to in total.

“Every song that we write ends up influencing the next song we are going to write. To me it’s less about cohesion than it is about being different,” she says. “It’s about trying not to repeat yourself. Sometimes the first couple of songs will affect the record, but the first song we wrote for this record was Genova Heights, which, I think, is completely on its own. It’s sort of a different, disco Steely Dan kind of thing. But when In Our Bedroom After the War was written, we knew that song was going to be the last song on the record and this was going to be how we end it. It has such an epic feel to it so a lot of stuff started drawing from there, so we had to build into the last song. But really it’s a song-by-song process with each of them affecting the other. Then you have seven songs and you think, what does the record need right now- Midnight Coward was the last song we wrote and I was like, we do not have enough songs where Torquil and I are singing together. So I aimed to make a song so he and I could have a story together. But it’s really collaborative; it’s all of us in a room together working it out.

“I don’t think we’ll move away from that. I think that is how we grew up, it’s the music we grew up on, it’s what we know, it’s what we listen to, it’s what we fell in love with in terms of music. We’re just not of the generation of singles, so it’s definitely going to affect our career and the kind of music we make. For the next record, I would really like it to fit on just one vinyl. All I listen to now is vinyl and I would just love to be like ‘this is the record’ – it’s not a double record with 64 minutes of music. That’s what I’m excited about in terms of the future.”

WHO: Stars
WHAT: In Our Bedroom After the War through Arts & Crafts/Shiny / Play Spectrum / Play St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Circular Quay
WHEN: Out now / Tuesday 26 February, Wednesday 27 (two nights) / Sunday 2 March

Broken Social Scene family tree
Confused by all the different names littered throughout the stars story- Well, let’s clarify them a little, shall we- BSS members’ names are in bold.

Brendan Canning founded BSS with Kevin Drew, is also in Valley of the Giants with Charles Spearin and members of instrumental post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Drew was formally in the band KC Accidental with Spearin. Spearin is also in the instrumental post-rock Do Make Say Think, with Julie Penner and Ohad Benchetrit, who share a label with GY!BE. Drew dates Leslie Feist, who is also an award-winning soloist. Feist invited Andrew Whiteman to join BSS, which created the first proper BSS line-up. On top of all this, Jason Collett is also a successful solo artist, Emily Haines and James Shaw are also in New Wave/indie rock group Metric, Evan Cranley, Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell are in indie rock group Stars, John Crossingham is in indie rock group Raising The Fawn and Lisa Lobsinger is in indie pop group Reverie Sound System. Now that’s one hell of a band.